Yoga festival guests get 'Namastoked' in Imperial Beach

Surf, sand and sun salutations converged this weekend at the third annual San Diego Yoga Festival at Imperial Beach.

At an event that combined holistic health and San Diego beach culture, some 5,000 guests turned out to perfect their poses, sample vegan food booths and get “namastoked,” a play on the Sanskrit greeting, “namaste.”

“I am happy, I am confident, I am the great spirit,” a teacher chanted to guitar music by the Conscious Groove on Sunday, as 200 participants spread out mats on the sand for one of several dozen yoga sessions offered between Friday and Monday.

The classes spanned numerous styles and disciplines, from Vinyasa and Kundalini, to kid-friendly family yoga, senior yoga, anti-aging face yoga, and even yoga with chocolate pairings or on skateboards.

“I’m really big on making it accessible to everybody,” founder Shawna Schenk said.

Schenk started the festival three years ago as an offshoot to the yoga studio she ran out of her home. She made enough profit last year to open a separate studio, where she offers classes on a donation basis.

Schenk had taught at a number of other festivals in the seven years since she became a yoga instructor and figured San Diego was an idyllic site to host her own.

Still, the city known for its perfect weather threw a curveball Saturday when Schenk aimed to break the Guinness World Record for the largest partner yoga class. To achieve that, she needed to draw more than 2,457 participants. Amid the downpour, 350 people showed up, but to Schenk, that was still a win.

“I feel like 350 people doing yoga in the rain is better than breaking a world record,” she said.

There were other perks to that event, including the choice of partners, said participant Joyce Sisson.

“I got paired up with a cute man,” she said. “He was gorgeous. It’s amazing when you feel that heartbeat. It was awesome.”

On Sunday, the climate cooperated with the festival’s schedule, despite forecasts of rain.

“We got the sun,” Schenk said. “I’m really happy. I think it’s all the vibes and good intentions. We changed the weather.”

The festival also offered a virtual one-stop shop for the holistically attuned, with yoga clothing and gear available for sale, along with crystals, herbs and aromatherapy oil. The board game “Yogaland” challenges players to pull cards from four categories, including mind, body, spirit and third eye, and then complete tasks such as drawing yoga poses or reciting their Sanskrit names.

Guests could snack on acai bowls, gluten-free cakes and cookies, avocado bagels or “Mozambique-inspired comfort food,” consisting of various veggie stews in savory curry sauce.

For a dollar a minute, participants could try out a session of Reiki, a touchless stress reduction and relaxation technique that Schenk referred to as a “massage for the unseen part of the body.”

They could also get a quick acupuncture session, and sample new styles of yoga.

“My favorite part of the festival is all the different types of yoga, and how it brings all these different people in the community together,” said yoga instructor Mandy Van Buren. “I just tried Kundalini and the way it gets your energy moving, there’s something just so metamorphic about it.”

Instructor Karla Rodas invited military members and their families to join a session of “trauma-conscious yoga,” which offers free classes for the military population. For Marine veteran Nathan Lynch, who suffered severe burns during his service, yoga has offered a way to cope with pain and distress without drugs. He attended the festival to reach other people struggling with those problems.

“I’ve been in those times when you’re popping pills and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and sinking into the shadows until you pull yourself out,” he said. “So if I see somebody who needs help, I give a helping hand.”

deborah.brennan@sduniontribune.com Twitter@deborahsbrennan

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